gym owner

Gym Owner Debate: The Pros And Cons Of Discounting Memberships

As a gym owner, where do you stand on discounting memberships? Today, we're looking at the varying viewpoints on offering discounts and promos.

Emily Beers
May 15, 2023
Gym Owner Debate: The Pros And Cons Of Discounting Memberships
As a gym owner, where do you stand on discounting memberships? Today, we're looking at the varying viewpoints on offering discounts and promos.

This month on the PushPress blog, it’s the great gym owner debate! We’re having some fun discussing topics where fitness business owners traditionally vary in viewpoints. We invite you to check out each days’ topic, then join the conversation in the PushPress Facebook community!

While gym owners are on opposite ends of the spectrum for some topics, the stance on discounts is one that sometimes changes over the years. Newer gym owners tend to lean toward discounting, while seasoned ones advise against it. However, this isn’t absolute. There are exceptions to both sides as each gym owner builds their business.

Each gym owner should decide whether discounting memberships is right for them.

Today, we’re looking at the logic on both sides to help you decide what’s best for your gym.

Gym Owner Viewpoint 1: “Never Discount.”

First, we’re discussing the assertion from gym owners who don’t believe in discounting memberships. For this group, the long and the short of it is that when it comes to deals, the response is always, “We don’t do discounts.” And that’s the end of the story.

Here are a few of the common arguments:

1. You Can’t Discount Your Time.

Because you’re selling a service, not a product, it should not be discounted. Unlike product sales that cost less per unit the more you sell, services doesn’t work like this. You’re selling your time, which is finite. Therefore it’s incredibly valuable and shouldn’t be discounted or cheapened.

When you discount your time, you can quickly find yourself working for $20, $15, even $10 an hour. This often leads to burnout for business owners and even resentment toward clients who are taking advantage of your time.

2. Perception Is Everything.

When people see a discount, they don’t always take your normal price seriously. As a result, they start assuming they should always be able to get a deal at your gym. If your gym membership pricing was low when they started, why not forever?

In addition, your members might perceive the value of your services to be low. If you sell below the value, this gives them an alternate perception of the value. And this is how you become known as the discount gym in town.

3. You’re Attracting The Wrong Clientele.

As obvious as it may seem, when you offer deals, you attract people who are searching for deals. And when a gym owner starts filling classes with the Groupon crowd, it’s tough to increase gym retention numbers.

Gym hoppers are looking for any fitness option with a low price. Therefore, if your coaches are focused on selling high-ticket gym services, there’s a disconnect. You’re looking to help them with health and fitness for the long run. They’re looking for a cheap workout. And this will lead to disappointment on both ends.

Avoid gym-hoppers who are just looking for a cheap workout
Avoid gym-hoppers who are just looking for a cheap workout option.

4. Clients Will Lack Appreciation.

Sometimes, gym owners like to offer a discount to industry-specific professions, like first responders or teachers. Unfortunately, it’s tough to draw a line then. From the perspective of other members, why are teachers more valued than mental health professionals? It creates a barrier and sometimes resentment.

Further, while the initial discount is likely appreciated, the sentiment usually doesn’t last. And it’s probably not the reason they’ll stick around as long-term members. Once you’ve shown them an extraordinary gym member experience, they’ll understand why they’re paying full price for it.

5. Keep Your Loyal Clients Happy.

As a gym owner, put yourself in the shoes of your fairly-new client who just finished their onboarding program. They paid full price for it and recently graduated to a membership (that they’re also paying full price for).

Now imagine they get word that there’s a new discount promo for the onboarding program and membership. In a situation like this, discounts can erode trust and ruffle the feathers of your long-term, loyal members.

6. Don’t Delay The Joining Process.

For gyms that offer a discount around the same timeframe each year, you might unwillingly be delaying the start of someone’s membership. For instance, let’s say you run a “New Year, New You” promo every January. If people in your area are aware of the discount, they may have been ready to start in December but held off for that price savings.

Gym Owner Viewpoint 2: “Discounts? Sure, Why Not?”

Now, let’s look at the arguments from gym owners who use discounts as part of their marketing, sales and growth strategies. These owners believe you can offer world-class services with specific deals during certain times to generate business.

1. A Great Option For New Gyms.

For a new gym owner who needs members, discounts are a viable option. You might be better off bringing people on, even at a discounted rate, than having nobody in your classes.

Discounts can help fill classes when opening a gym
Discounts can help fill classes when opening a gym.

Therefore, as you’re getting started, offering promos for things like the onboarding program or several months of membership could help. It might be just what you need to generate awareness about your new fitness business and sign up some new members.

2. Offer Online Specials.

Making special offers via online ads can be a great way to generate new business. Plus, the ads can be highly-targeted for specific demographics. For example, you can create an ad campaign that attracts new mothers, offering a discount on your new “Fit Moms” program.

A campaign like this also shouldn’t upset any current clients, who aren’t the target of the ad sets. This way, they’re not seeing discounts on services that they wouldn’t be using anyway.

3. Launch Strong With New Program Discounts.

Running a promotion for a specific event, seminar or new program you’re launching is a great way to generate awareness.

For example, let’s say one of your coaches just completed the Healthy Steps Nutrition course and you’re planning to implement a nutrition coaching program. Offer a discount on the pilot run to the first 20 people who sign up. Not only is this an additional revenue stream for your gym but it’s helpful to get the program up and running.

This could also be a great option for new personal training or individual design programming. First, it’s the impetus you need to launch the program and build credibility. Second, members will see other members training outside of class, which could lead to more sales.

4. Referral Discounts Bring New Members.

As a gym owner, developing a great referral program is a no-brainer. However, if your members don’t even know about it, it won’t be beneficial for getting new faces in your doors.

Inform your members about the referral program to increase sales
Inform your members about the referral program to increase gym sales.

The first step is to spread the word, and discounting can be a difference-maker. Asking for referrals is one thing. Offer an enticing reward, like a free month, and make it very clear that you’re asking them to invite friends to the gym.

Pro Tip: Use PushPress Grow to quickly and easily tell your whole gym about the new referral program, or any other updates you want to share! Book a demo with our team today to find out how you can save time with Grow’s automation options.

Further, unlike personal training or nutrition coaching discounts, offering a free month of group classes doesn’t cost you any additional time. So if it means bringing on a new client paying for onboarding and the following months of membership, it’s worth it.

In Summary: Choose What’s Right For Your Gym

Before you make your mind up regarding membership discounts at your gym, consider the options. It’s easy to find a gym owner who’s been successful on both sides of the argument, so you have to choose what’s right for your fitness business.

Further, it doesn’t have to be black-and-white. Perhaps you’re opposed to the idea of discounting memberships in general. But there might come a time when a specific offer or promotion might help you launch a new program. If you’re open to what’s best for different revenue streams, you could unlock some new possibilities.

Emily Beers

Emily Beers is a health, fitness and nutrition writer. She has also been coaching fitness at MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. since 2009.

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